The Rise And Fall Of Anonabox: Developing Internet Anonymity Routers


Anonymity Routers And The Demand For Privacy On The Internet

There’s been quite a few news stories in the last couple of years that have made people fear for their safety and privacy online. Most recently, Snapchat’s security breach and the leak of up to 200 celebrity nudes has brought privacy into the limelight. For internet users, these leaks highlight the responsibility inherent in internet use, and for many they call for a complete reexamination of privacy and safety on the internet. It’s among these concerns that Anonabox emerged - a small, $45, plastic, white router that promised to privatize and anonymize everything you do on the internet.

Staying Private, Anonymous, And Undetected Online

The concept of Anonabox is pretty simple - the core idea is to reroute all your traffic through Tor. Tor is free software that allows you to browse the internet anonymously: it directs your internet transactions through a random list of different IPs and locations, so your original IP address and identity becomes more difficult to acquire. The service is used frequently by military and government personnel, activists, and journalists, who may want to correspond securely with whistle-blowers or otherwise avoid identification by malicious surveillance. However, many others use it as a step towards a more private internet experience, protected from scrutiny and analysis. SEE ALSO: Staying Anonymous On The Internet A couple devices similar to Anonabox have emerged over the years: there’s been several routers you can plug into in order to more easily direct all your internet traffic through Tor. Most of these devices have been less than successful, not only because they’ve been flawed and problem-riddled, but also because of a distinct lack of interest and recognition. Anonabox, however, debuted this month and raised over $600,000 on Kickstarter within five days of being announced. This number is even more staggering when you consider that the project was initiated with a $7,500 total goal. These numbers are pretty ridiculous, but also pretty telling - the project was announced at the right time, and offers a service with a pretty high need. However, the success of Anonabox was short lived. Within a week, Kickstarter suspended the Anonabox project, citing the misrepresentation of their product. This was among a furious flurry of complaints and criticisms launched by other internet users, resulting in the total pledged money to decrease even before the Kickstarter suspension, as users quickly began to pull their pledges and funding.

How Anonabox Went Wrong

Criticisms towards the system began building rapidly: the project encountered huge internet fame, so it was only a matter of time before this lead to very close scrutiny of all the company’s claims. It was quickly discovered that though Anonabox claimed to be a self-build device, they were using modified Chinese off-the-shelf hardware inserted into a custom-made case. Not only that, but users also quickly found issue with the proposed software, discovering pitfalls and security gaps that could easily be exploited by hackers, subverting the system’s intended purpose of keeping activists or journalists safe from recognition. The project’s creator and developer, August Gremrar, told Wired magazine that “he had never intended the project to be aimed at normal, non-expert users, so much as developers who would contribute feedback and continue to improve the router.” It seems that what Anonabox offered wasn’t a consumer-ready, easy to use device so much as an idea and prototype that they were seeking to develop. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the developers of the system, of course. They were simply offering a device that there’s obviously an overwhelming need for, as shown by the 9,000 pledgers for the project. Many of these pledgers, and a number of other internet users, are now looking for a similar, but more effective, system that does what Anonabox promised.

Quickly Emerging Anonabox Alternatives

These new anonymity routers have, of course, cropped up very quickly. There’s already been a couple that repeated the mistakes Anonabox made, which will no doubt go down the same path. There are also, of course, projects which look promising so far. Cloak and Invizbox, for example, seek to do what Anonabox failed to do, and they lay their project out with a much higher degree of transparency in an attempt to rectify the mistakes of their predecessors. SEE ALSO: Top 5 Ways To Avoid Being Tracked Online Looking back at the fall of Anonabox, however, it might be better to hold off pledging to or buying any of these devices, at least until they’ve been put through the same scrutiny as Anonabox and come out unscathed. Of course, it’s always been possible to use Tor without any kind of system or device - a router really isn’t necessary, it just makes use easier and more efficient. For those who are looking into anonymizing and surveillance-deterring browsing methods, there’s already systems available you can use while the development and scrutiny of new anonymizing routers goes on in the background.
Date of original publication:
Updated on: November 10, 2015

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